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User research for Product Managers

Build a culture of user research in your product organization.


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Aradhana Vaidya

3 years ago | 3 min read

As a product manager, you might have heard of NIHITO, which stands for “Nothing Important Happens In The Office”. It implies that it’s really important to step out of your comfort zone and step into your customers’ world. To really understand the problems, challenges and even successes that your customers experience, it’s important to be in sync with them. This can be accomplished by having a culture of user research in your product organization.

I started at my career at Autodesk, as a Customer Success Engineer and transitioned internally into product management. Since I have experience running customer research interviews, workshops and customer councils, I thought of sharing the process that I have used.

Let’s begin by understanding the framework for conducting effective user research. The process can be broken down into these steps:

  1. Set the objective
  2. Determine the research methodology
  3. Conduct research
  4. Synthesize research and draw conclusions

Objective

Engaging with customers can happen at different stages of your product management process.

It could be during product discovery. You might be exploring whether there are real users out there that want this product and for that you need to identify your market and validate the opportunity with your customers. It could also be for a product solution. You might be validating whether the solution that your product provides is usable, useful, and feasible.

Before your begin the research, be clear about your objective.

Research methodology

With an objective set, the next step is to identify which research method would be most appropriate for the goal that you have in mind. There are a wide range of methods to choose from:

  • Customer interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Advisory Boards
  • Contextual inquiry (day-in-the-life-of-a-customer)
  • Surveys
  • and many more…

Conducting research

Choose an appropriate method based on the objective that you set. For instance, if the objective is to reach out to a large set of customers and get their pulse on specific product features, a survey might be the right approach. If the objective is to get input on the product strategy and validate product ideas, a customer advisory board might be needed. If the goal is to understand the problem space — identify customer problems, evaluate solutions they are using currently to address their challenges, and get a deeper understanding of their workflow, then customer interviews might be needed.

In this article, let’s focus on customer interviews. These interviews could be individual 1-to-1 interviews, group interviews with 2–4 people or feedback workshops with 8–10 people. You could go to your customer’s workplace and conduct the interview there or you could invite them to your office. You can also conduct the session remotely using video conferencing and collaboration tools. Remember that it will take time to plan, set up interviews and conduct research, but the insights you gain will be invaluable.

Before you begin, decide on the size of the group and the nature of the research activity. Have a clear plan, a detailed script and devise a systematic approach. Even if this isn’t the first time that you are conducting an interview, I would recommend rehearsing the script and research method with a colleague on your team. Also, never conduct the interviews alone. Partner with your UX or invite a developer to join you in the interviews. There are several advantages to this. You will feel supported during the interview and your team will gain customer empathy since they’ll be listening to customers first-hand. Remember to have a note-taker or record the interview, if possible, with customer permission.

Personally, I have always partnered with user researchers, designers or product owners during my research undertakings.

Synthesizing research findings

The next step is to synthesize your research findings. My recommendation is to set up short debrief meetings after every interview and then a longer session later once your set of planned interviews are done. In the longer session, get together with your team and recap interview findings, identify common themes and analyze the results. Assess whether it confirms the assumptions your started with or whether new information has surfaced that you may not have known in the beginning. Analyze how this informs your product strategy and figure out the next steps.

Present this analysis with conclusions and decisions to your team and the leadership.

This article was first published at Medium on Sept 1, 2020.

Image courtesy - UX Indonesia on Unsplash


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Aradhana Vaidya

Aradhana is a graphics technology geek, food lover, hiking enthusiast and an avid reader. I’m truly fascinated by technology that’s used to create beautiful images. Currently she is a Product Manager at Autodesk. She's also passionate about getting more women into technology.


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